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Iranian Christians sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking communion wine

It is dangerous being a Christian in Iran. Photo Tehran, Iran: Wikipedia Babak Farrok

It is dangerous being a Christian in Iran. Photo Tehran, Iran: Wikipedia Babak Farrok

On October 6, four Iranian men were sentenced to 80 lashes each for drinking ceremonial wine as part of a communion service in their local house church. Alcohol is forbidden under Iran’s sharia law which governs the justice system and the death penalty is an option for any Muslim who converts to Christianity.

Last December, Behzad Taalipasand, Mehdi Rez Omidi (Youhan), Mehdi Dadkhah (Danial) and Amir Hatemi (Youhanna) were attending a house church in Rasht, Iran, when the meeting was raided by Iranian police.

According to sources, the portion of their name in brackets represents their Biblical names. 

The raid was part of the Iranian government’s crackdown on house churches. Rasht with a population of 600,000 overlooks the Caspian Sea.

All four were charged and two of them — Behzad Taalipasand and Mahdi Reza Omidi (Youhan) — have been in custody since their arrest on December 31, 2013.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) — a Christian organization promoting religious freedom around the world — released information on the sentence shortly after it came down. There is a ten day period — starting October 20 — in which the sentence can be appealed.  In addition to the communion wine, the four were also charged with possessing a satellite antenna and receiver.

According to Mervyn Thomas — CSW’s Chief executive:

“The sentences handed down to these members of the Church of Iran effectively criminalise the Christian sacrament of sharing in the Lord’s Supper and constitute an unacceptable infringement on the right to practice faith freely and peaceably. We urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that the nation’s legal practices and procedures do not contradict its international obligation under the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to guarantee the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief by all of its religious communities.”

UN warns of mistreatment of Christians in Iran

Over the past few years, the UN has repeatedly warned of Iran’s mistreatment of non Muslims. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed works as the UN”s special investigator on human rights. On October 23, he released a report outlining Iran’s brutal treatment of Christians. In it Shaheed wrote:

“At least 20 Christians were in custody in July 2013. In addition, violations of the rights of Christians, particularly those belonging to evangelical Protestant groups, many of whom are converts, who proselytize to and serve Iranian Christians of Muslim background, continue to be reported.”

“…authorities continue to compel licensed Protestant churches to restrict Persianspeaking and Muslim-born Iranians from participating in services, and raids and forced closures of house churches are ongoing… More than 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010, and dozens of church leaders and active community members have reportedly been convicted of national security crimes in connection with church activities, such as organizing prayer groups, proselytizing and attending Christian seminars abroad.”

Shared suffering

The brutal sentence for these Iranian Christians for simply participating in a communion is a vivid reminder that believers are not exempt from suffering:

For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:5 NASV)

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